In living your Catholic faith, how often does it consist mostly of checking a series of boxes? Sunday Mass? Check. Grace before meals? Check. Giving to charity? Check. Daily prayer? Check. But Jesus didn’t die for us just to be an item on our daily to-do list.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” So how can we encounter that person, Jesus, in our own lives? And why should we? What difference does it make to have an encounter with Christ?
On how we can encounter Jesus, Msgr. Swetland told A Closer Look host Sheila Liaugminas, “We can’t make an encounter with God. We can open ourselves to an encounter with God who’s already there at the door of our heart knocking. All we have to do is let Him in. We have to let Jesus love us because He won’t force Himself on us.”
But it doesn’t require simple passivity on our part. In our noisy world, with so many distractions, opening our ears to hear what the Lord is saying can be a challenge. But it is necessary in order to receive all that the Lord wants to give us.
“We heard in the Gospel this past weekend, the Second Sunday in Lent, the command of the Father that Peter, James, and John heard, ‘This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him,'” Msgr. Swetland pointed out. “And I believe the beginning of authentic encounter begins with opening our ears and our hearts. Our hearts to encounter, our ears to listen to the word, and the voice, and the love that God wishes to give us.”
If we look to Scripture, we can see that having an encounter with Jesus can change everything. That was certainly the case for St. Paul, who’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus led him to stop persecuting Christians and instead live a life of persecution for Christ’s sake. And even though your encounter may not be as dramatic, nor your mission as lofty as St. Paul’s, Jesus wants to encounter you so that he can show you the same thing he showed St. Paul: who you are, and who He is.
“It’s only in an encounter with Jesus Christ that we discover who we really are, and we discover who Christ really is. And it’s Christ who teaches us,” explained Msgr. Swetland.
If we look to other figures in the Bible, we can see that those who encountered Jesus were able to do the impossible through Him. Peter walked on water, John had the strength to stay by Jesus even at the foot of the Cross, Philip healed those who were paralyzed. Msgr. Swetland and Sheila discussed how in our culture of polarization and outrage there is a great need for Catholics to have an encounter with Christ in order to do what is otherwise impossible: love our enemies.
“We hear this message in the Gospels during Lent,” Msgr. Swetland pointed out. “‘The measure with which we measure will be measured back to us.’ We encounter Christ, who while we were yet sinners died for us – in other words while we were His enemies He laid down His life for us. Once we encounter Christ and see that, and know we are saved by the merciful love of God, if we have had an authentic encounter with Jesus we cannot do anything but want to show that same merciful love to others.”
“Christ empowers us by supernatural grace to go beyond the natural tendency to hate our enemy and to wish to destroy him or her, and actually see them as our brother and sister, in fact or in potential,” he continued. “And to begin working to heal whatever divides us to bring us into the unity that Jesus prayed for – that all may be one.”
Listen to the full conversation below: